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Günter Verheugen

Member of the European Commission responsible for Enlargement

Debate on EU enlargement in the European Parliament

Debate on EU enlargement in the European Parliament

Strasbourg, 4 September 2001

Almost a year has gone by since the last big debate in the European Parliament on enlargement of the European Union. I therefore welcome the opportunity to take stock of this period and outline the tasks that lie ahead.

But before doing that let me say a big thank-you to Parliament and all its groups and committees for their strong commitment to the EU-enlargement process. Parliament's occasionally quite critical but always positive and constructive approach to the enlargement negotiations is valuable and indispensable. All of you, ladies and gentlemen, have contributed in a big way to giving this historic project political credibility and lending the enlargement process democratic legitimacy.

The Commission is counting on Parliament's continued support in this, the decisive final phase of the negotiations. The Commission is aware that Parliament is entitled to detailed information and close coordination. We will continue to strictly observe this requirement.

To get an overview of the state of play in the negotiations and the prospects for enlargement we must first remind ourselves of the outcome of the Nice and Göteborg European Councils: enlargement will happen and it will happen soon. We have passed the point of no return and the process is irreversible.

I don't wish here to revisit the controversy surrounding the Treaty of Nice. I would merely point out that the Treaty contains the indispensable conditions for concluding the accession treaties. I too have my doubts as to whether the Treaty afforded the best conceivable solution to the issue of institutional adjustments and to what many, myself included, saw as the necessary link between deepening and widening the Union. But I fear there will always be differences of opinion on what is the best conceivable solution. Living in Europe means having to live with compromises. So the Commission is campaigning emphatically for ratification of the Nice Treaty here in the European Parliament and in the Member States' parliaments.

We are all aware that the Treaty has already failed to clear its first hurdle, the Irish referendum. The response to that referendum cannot be "business as usual". If we go by the motto "let's close our eyes and press on" the ship will soon founder on the rocks and we'll miss a great and historic opportunity. Enlargement must not be the victim of growing alienation between Europe's citizens and the European institutions and decision-making processes. The response to the warning signal from Ireland is also, but not only, a matter of getting the message across to the public. But Europe's citizens may be expecting a more fundamental and more sophisticated answer. There is an intrinsic link between the debate about the future of Europe and the debate about our future borders.

The Treaty of Nice has set the course for the candidate countries' earnest desire to see the negotiations geared to substantive issues. The road map tabled by the Commission and approved by heads of state and government is more than just a negotiating timetable. It is in essence a commitment by the 15 Member States to adopt common positions within certain time frames and this also goes for areas where their interests diverge significantly. At the same time this sends a signal to the applicant countries that their efforts are worthwhile and that no issue will be put on the back burner.

We can say after almost a year that the Nice strategy has galvanised the candidate countries and that adoption of the acquis communautaire is progressing faster and more smoothly. At the same time the candidates are showing more flexibility in adjusting their positions so that genuine negotiating breakthroughs have been achieved. The "mobility of labour" chapter is a case in point.

In Göteborg the desired time frame for the first accessions was clearly set out. This happened at the right time. On the one hand, it enabled us to define the progress made in the negotiations and to mark out the finishing line for those applicants that were adequately prepared. On the other hand, the Göteborg decision gives the candidate countries' parliaments and governments the necessary political tailwind to mobilise the whole country and confront the doubters, and doubters there are.

Taking the European Parliament elections as a reference point for accession is an idea that originated here in Parliament. In last year's debate we reached agreement on this. I'm very happy that we have in fact managed to push through this course set by Parliament.

I believe it was a wise decision in Göteborg not to give any specific accession dates for individual countries or groups of countries. The core principles of the enlargement process, individual merit, differentiation and the chance to catch up are working well. If we stick to these principles, this produces an accession scenario justified solely by the outcome of the negotiations. The Commission will abide resolutely by this approach. The reason I say this is because I want to counter the view that at the end of the day the decisions will be purely political, I mean political in the worst sense of the word. The Commission will not propose conclusion of the accession treaty for each applicant country until such time as it is convinced that the applicant is properly prepared and meets all the conditions.

I will therefore not speculate today on how many new member states will be represented in the next European Parliament and which ones. All I can say is that of the twelve with which we are negotiating, ten have decided to adopt the Göteborg time frame. It would be a serious breach of trust if we were now to say to individual countries: you are definitely "in", or you "have to wait a bit". So we must in ourselves nonetheless be ready to accept an initial group of up to 10 candidate countries. That sounds more dramatic than it is as these ten represent, all told, around 75 million citizens whereas all 13 candidates together have a population of 185 million.

As part of this political stocktaking, let me now turn to the actual negotiations:

With the six countries we began negotiating with in 1998 and with Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Malta, all the 31 negotiating chapters bar the one dealing with the budget and institutional questions have been opened and in some cases already provisionally closed. With Cyprus 23 chapters have been concluded, with Hungary 22, with Slovenia 21, with the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Estonia 19, with Lithuania 18, with Poland and Malta 17, and with Latvia 16 chapters.

More important than this list of figures is the substance of each chapter. It is quite conceivable that countries which have concluded fewer chapters than others have nonetheless advanced further.

The example of free movement of labour shows how difficult the outstanding subjects are. The compromise reached on the basis of the Commission proposal offers the most liberal and most flexible solution to the problem thus far. We will need as much free movement as possible but for a number of years also as much security as possible.

I also want to use this example to come back once more to how the Commission sees its own role in the enlargement process. The Commission's job is to defend the interests of the entire Union. It is in the interests of the entire Union that no Member State should bear more than it can bear. In its proposals the Commission also has to take account of what would not be bearable for the candidate countries and future member states. Without the capacity for compromise we will not make the necessary progress.

Other controversial issues lie ahead: justice and home affairs, competition, taxation, transport, budget, regional policy and agriculture.

In the negotiating chapter "justice and home affairs" one important issue is the protection of the future external borders. This is a classic case of conflicting goals. On one hand, enlargement should not cause any new division of Europe, that is to say cross-border contacts that often go back hundreds of years should not be made impossible or unbearably difficult, especially in areas where the same language is spoken on both sides of the border and close cultural links exist. On the other hand, by the end of this round of enlargement we will have an eastern border stretching practically from the North Cape to the Bosporus. This border must meet the security needs of today's EU citizens. Border security is one of the essential conditions and new members can only be integrated fully into the Schengen system when their border regime complies fully with Schengen standards.

Other subjects such as taxation, competition and to a large extent agriculture throw up enormous social issues. What is at stake here is the working of the internal market and social cohesion in the countries in transition. We shall have to decide how much flexibility the Union can tolerate so that, on the day after they join, the future new member states do not experience enlargement as a social upheaval.

The agricultural acquis communautaire is one which could change significantly in the next few years. This has led many observers to voice the opinion that it would be better to decide on agricultural reform first and speak to the candidate countries about agriculture afterwards. If we did that, we would be laying down a new condition. There would not be anything approaching a reliable enlargement timetable and the finishing line would disappear over the horizon.

So the Commission has proposed negotiating the acquis communautaire in agriculture as it stands. Changes to the acquis during the negotiations will be included - that is a perfectly normal process - and any subsequent reform measures can already be taken into account in the negotiating positions. Large swathes of Community law in the agricultural sector are already under negotiation because they won't be affected by reforms. Basically what remains are three major areas: production quotas, market organisation and direct payments.

I by no means underestimate the huge challenge of these farm negotiations. But our analysis hitherto shows that the problems can be settled. However, it must be said that the agricultural structure is causing enormous problems for some countries.

These problems cannot however be resolved with classic farm policy instruments, rather we are dealing here with the broader issue of development of the countryside beyond agriculture.

With a view to financing enlargement, the Commission will ensure that the budget effects of its proposals for negotiating positions are in line with the spending ceilings agreed in Berlin for the period up to 2006. In doing so, account must be taken of the envisaged and necessary adjustments for the number of new member states.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me now turn to the situation in the candidate countries themselves. Adoption of the acquis communautaire is progressing apace everywhere. Most countries have taken highly effective organisational measures in order to get through the huge legislative workload on time. The instruments used, in particular twinning and inter-parliamentary cooperation, have proved their worth.

We have also seen rapid and welcome progress in the capacity to frame policies for European integration. The candidate countries are already taking part in many Community programmes. They are already applying Community rules. The increasingly frequent meetings between Member States and all applicant countries constitute an important rehearsal for future European cooperation. Increasingly, too, subjects which bear no direct relation to the adoption of the acquis communautaire are being addressed. I note with satisfaction that in some applicant countries the debate on the future of Europe is being conducted with a good deal of seriousness and expertise. Enlargement will bring many committed Europeans into our fold. We can expect them to give us a major new impetus. This applies in particular to well-educated young people in these countries: Europe has now become part and parcel of their own future plans.

The state of play on meeting the Copenhagen criteria will be set out in the Commission's progress reports for the year 2001. These will be discussed and adopted at the beginning of November.

We can already say this much today: the trend of the last few years is continuing. All the negotiating candidate countries continue to meet the political criteria. There is no doubt that the prospect of membership has helped stabilise democracy in Central and Eastern Europe. To judge how valuable this stability is for the whole of Europe, we need only look at those countries where there is no tangible prospect of accession. It is being proved again and again that expectation of membership is the strongest and most effective engine for necessary reforms.

I want to make it crystal clear that the Commission will continue to press in the enlargement negotiations for full observance of human rights and the rights of minorities. This includes a ban on any discrimination based on age, gender, sexual orientation or religious conviction.

We continue to keep a close eye on the situation of minorities and the development of the rule of law. It is indicative that national minorities in applicant countries are particularly interested in membership. For them, EU membership is the most effective protection.

Whilst the situation of Russian minorities in the Baltic countries is continuing to improve, integration of the Roma people remains a thorny and difficult issue. It would be an illusion to believe that social and cultural discrimination against the Roma can be eliminated before membership. It will take decades to achieve that. But we do expect all applicant countries to devise and put into practice credible strategies for better integration of the Roma, and they must do this before accession.

I see at last a silver lining in Romania, too, as regards the situation of orphans and the adoption business. I would sound a note of caution though, as we have already experienced many disappointments. Words alone are not enough, they must be backed up by deeds. Things are starting to change with the current government in Romania. An important sign is the readiness to apply a moratorium on international adoptions. There is so much compelling evidence that the current system has wittingly and deliberately fostered abuse, that international adoption should not be permitted again until the whole system has been radically reformed. I am convinced that parents with a serious wish to adopt a child and the serious NGOs helping them to fulfil this wish will be the first to understand that protecting the children against possible abuse must be the top priority. I should mention here that the Parliament's rapporteur for Romania, Baroness Emma Nicholson, has to her great credit been personally responsible for uncovering a breathtakingly corrupt system and that without her persistence the progress that has now been observed would not have been achieved.

On the economic criteria, we can also see, with the application of necessarily strict criteria, that there, too, the positive trend is continuing. Market reforms have not yet been pushed through everywhere, but the market economy has made its mark in all the countries. Competitiveness in the internal market has for the most part already been achieved as trade in goods and services between the EU and the applicant countries has already been widely liberalised.

Another issue is the overall economic situation in the candidate countries. Here, we have to be realistic. Yes, the candidate countries have higher growth rates than the average for the 15 EU countries, but the gulf between their economies and ours is still huge. It will be a long, long time before we can say the gap has been closed. Here, too, we should think in terms of a whole generation.

Likewise, even after membership, enlargement will have no dramatic economic effect on today's Member States. The positive economic effects are already there and will continue to rise slightly. But enlargement will not trigger significant annual growth spurts for the 15 EU member countries, with border regions and the neighbours of the new member countries feeling stronger positive effects.

But the economic effect should not be underestimated either. EU growth will be boosted over time and the EU's role in international competition will be enhanced.

Economics and finance ministers and the Commission are keeping an eagle eye on macro-economic trends in the future new member states. Inflation rates and budget deficits are sometimes too high and economic performance in some applicant countries occasionally shows up structural weaknesses. The dialogue with the candidates on macro-economic stability is intensive and the ultimate goal is not in dispute.

Against the background of the imminent introduction of the euro, I wish to remind you that the new member countries will not automatically belong to the euro zone. This requires special preparation and a special decision. The Maastricht criteria will have to be met in full. But there will be no opt out from the currency union. At the present time there is a clear order of priorities: first the Copenhagen criteria for accession and then the Maastricht criteria for the euro.

I can already say today that the next Commission strategy paper will focus on an assessment of the third Copenhagen criterion, namely implementation of the entire body of EU law. This is a logical sequence. Hitherto the emphasis was on adoption of the acquis communautaire as such. Now the crucial thing is the ability to implement and apply it in its entirety.

As you know, we have seen enormous shortfalls in this field over the last year. We have energetically encouraged the candidate countries to eliminate these shortfalls. Let me repeat here what I have already said on a previous occasion: continuing serious shortfalls in administrative capacity can become serious obstacles to accession.

In this connection let me say a word about accession aid. The PHARE programme has achieved a high degree of effectiveness. The ISPA programme is running to schedule. The SAPARD programme had to overcome substantial teething troubles. We were not able to predict this degree of difficulty. But I am convinced that no SAPARD funds will be lost. The three programmes are complicated. This task is tantamount to squaring the circle. The aid has to be swift and effective, but there has to be a guarantee that EU money is being used for the desired purpose. That guarantee cannot be given if at the same time we want the system to be very simple. The Commission is open to further simplification, but it has to insist that avoidable risks be reliably eliminated. Misconduct by individuals is always a risk wherever public money is being spent. There is no sure-fire protection against this - either in the candidate countries or in the Member States.

Before I come to a close, just a few words about two regional problems: Cyprus and Kaliningrad.

It remains our strategic goal to accept a unified Cyprus as a new member state. For that reason we continue to support emphatically the UN Secretary-General's efforts to find a solution to the Cyprus conflict. I'm very happy to say that we are cooperating closely with the UN in an atmosphere of trust. Of course it was not by chance that the Secretary-General's meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash in Salzburg last Tuesday was preceded by a meeting between myself and Mr Denktash in Zürich the day before. I must thank the foreign ministers of Greece, Turkey and Cyprus and the special envoys of the UN, the UK and the US for their close coordination and constructive dialogue. I hope discussion of the Cyprus issue will now be kick-started and that talks on substantive issues will begin soon. We must now focus all our efforts on settling the conflict. We should avoid speculating what we will do if that does not succeed. The Helsinki accords give us room for manoeuvre and we must use it.

Kaliningrad is another question altogether. It concerns the effects of enlargement on our neighbours, in this case Russia. Fully recognising Russian sovereignty over Kaliningrad, we have made proposals to Russia as to how Kaliningrad can benefit from its situation as a kind of island within the European Union. Dialogue on this issue has got under way. The immediate neighbours in the region, Poland and Lithuania, share our point of view. It is a general principle that enlargement should not damage third parties. Precisely in the case of Russia I am deeply convinced that the country will reap benefits as soon as the political and economic dynamics of the enlarged Union take effect.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

One question remains: how do we ensure that the EU's citizens and those of the candidate countries accept the goal of enlargement? There is a lot of work still to be done. I nurse a healthy scepticism about opinion polls but we cannot turn a blind eye to Eurobarometer findings and opinion trends in the candidate countries. I would like to warn against seeing acceptance as simply a matter of getting the message across. In my experience if politicians are having difficulty getting the message across, the reason is usually to be found in the politics.

EU enlargement is a source of anxiety for many people. Where such fears are based on facts, we can counter them through information and participation. But where the fears are vague or part of a general feeling of unease about Europe, we need more than a communication strategy. Then the key issue is posed: what does Europe mean to EU citizens? How can we make the idea of European unification as exciting as it used to be? If today's EU does not inspire people, how can we expect them to be upbeat about the prospect of an enlarged EU?

The answers to these questions are the subject of another debate. That debate has begun. If we manage to achieve clarity in our goals and in how we express them, if we find the necessary courage and vision, then the public's acceptance of enlargement will follow.

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